What Lemur Guts Can Tell Us About Human Bowel Disease
With their big round eyes and wonderfully diverse fur patterns, the 250 lemurs that prance around the Duke Lemur Center in North Carolina look cute enough to cuddle. But Erin McKenney, a Duke University microbiome researcher, is more interested in their poop. McKenney spends the majority of her time looking for the stiff, upright lemur tails that are “the universal sign of pooping”—and her dirty work might help us better understand the origins of bowel diseases in humans.
McKenney and her fellow researchers recently discovered that the gut microbiomes of two of the lemur species here share surprising similarities with those of humans who suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s disease and inflammatory colitis. The reason, they suspect, is diet—which could offer physicians a new perspective on how to treat these diseases. In addition, getting a handle on the flora living in lemur guts could help conservationists better understand—and save—these endangered primates.